Green sandpipers are stocky shorebirds similar to the common sandpiper. They spend winters at inland freshwater wetlands in southern Europe and northern and central Africa after raising their young in swampy forests and wet woodland landscapes across northern Europe.
Green Sandpiper wading through the water
Green Sandpiper in flight
A pair of Green Sandpipers
Family:Sandpipers, snipes and phalaropes
21cm to 24cm
57cm to 61cm
53g to 119g
As their name might suggest, a key defining feature of green sandpipers is the olive green-brown plumage on their upper back and wings, spotted with small light buff markings. Males and females are alike in colouring: their rump is white, and their tail – also white – is barred with thick black bands.
Green sandpipers’ have a white belly and a white upper breast, streaked with dark brown, with blotches on the lower breast and flanks. They have a grey-olive head, with a narrow white eye ring, and a white stripe in front of the eye.
Some light white streaking is visible across the crown, chin and throat. Their bill is straight, thin, and olive green, tipped with black, and their legs and feet are a dark greenish-grey.
Close up of a Green Sandpiper
Once breeding has finished, both male female green sandpipers moult into an alternative, paler plumage, with a grey-brown head and darker streaking across the breast.
Juvenile green sandpipers resemble non-breeding adults, but have an unmarked brown-white breast and upperparts, with small buff spots on their upper back and wings.
Green sandpipers are considered medium-sized waders, with females slightly larger and heavier than males. Average size ranges for the species are as follows:
Green Sandpiper nonbreeding plumage
Male green sandpapers can be heard making musical calls during flight, which sound like “weet-weet-kooi-kooi-eet-eet” A frequently heard squeaky “weet” call may be heard in flight or when flushed.
The diet of green sandpipers consists mainly of invertebrates, with aquatic and terrestrial insects, insect larvae, small crustaceans and spiders representing the main foods taken. Fish are also sometimes caught and eaten.
Green sandpipers mainly hunt their prey by sight, picking crustaceans and invertebrates off the water’s surface. They do also occasionally find food by probing the wet ground and shallow waters with their long bill. They are also observed to turn over large underwater stones in search of leeches and worms.
Young green sandpipers eat worms, spiders, centipedes and millipedes.
Green Sandpiper wading through the water, searching for food
Preferred breeding habitats include sparse tundra landscapes, and damp areas of woodland, swampy forests and pine, spruce and alder woods near to rivers.
In winter, the presence of trees in their habitat is less important and migrant green sandpipers take up residence at marshes, lakes, gravel pits and rivers. They are also commonly seen at sewage works, watercress beds, and flooded rice paddies.
Green sandpipers breed in northern Europe, from northern Norway in the west across Asia to eastern Siberia and north-west China in the east, with a small limited population in central Kyrgyzstan.
Small-scale isolated breeding does occur in northern Scotland, but typically the British Isles only form part of the species’ winter range.
In autumn, green sandpipers head south to spend winter months in southern Europe, the North African coast, sub-Saharan Africa as far south as Botswana and Zimbabwe, and east throughout Turkey, the Middle East and into India and South East Asia.
Green sandpiper, single bird in water, in its natural habitat
Northern and eastern Europe is home to the largest populations of breeding green sandpipers, with upper estimations of up to 20,000 pairs in Norway, 40,000 pairs in Sweden, 80,000 pairs in Finland, and more than 100,000 pairs in Russia.
To spot a green sandpiper in the UK would definitely count as quite a rare sighting, with only very limited breeding recorded in isolated regions of northern Scotland, and between 300 and 900 birds spending winters on British shores.
It’s most common to see a green sandpiper in the UK between July and March, once they have finished breeding in their usual nesting grounds further into northern Europe.
The most likely spots to score a sighting of a green sandpiper include lowlands of Wales and southern and central England, and southern Ireland.
A handful of migrant green sandpipers are recorded each year at the Lemsford Springs reserve in Hertfordshire, with observation of ringed birds indicating that they return to the same wintering spots each year.
Green Sandpipers are pretty rare in the UK
The oldest green sandpiper identified was a ringed individual aged 9 years and 11 months, but usually a lifespan of around 5 years is expected. Breeding takes place for the first time in either their second or third calendar year.
Birds of prey and mammals such as foxes are among the main predators of green sandpipers. Mink and weasels may opportunistically prey on young sandpipers.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 includes legislation that protects green sandpipers against being knowingly killed, injured or hunted. The same act safeguards their eggs and nests against being destroyed or damaged.
Although in the UK, they are classed as an Amber species in the British Birds of Conservation Concern list, green sandpipers are classified as a species of least concern across the whole of their range.
Habitat change has caused contractions of their wintering grounds in the UK, which has led to concern over population decline.
Green Sandpiper hunting for prey
Green sandpipers nest in trees, but you won’t spot them making their own nests as they raise their young in abandoned nests built by other species, particularly woodpigeons, crows, fieldfares and thrushes as well as grey squirrels’ dreys.
Occasionally they will lay their eggs in a ground-level tangle of roots or tucked inside low-lying vegetation, where they use a shallow scrape in the ground with no added lining.
A typical green sandpiper clutch contains 4 cream to pale olive eggs, although sometimes only 2 or 3 will be laid. Eggs are mottled with reddish-brown to purple markings, and measure 39.1 mm × 28 mm (1.5 in by 1.1 in). Both sexes share the incubation, which lasts for 20 to 23 days.
As far as we know, green sandpipers are monogamous during the breeding season, raising one brood together each year. Females leave ahead of males for wintering sites, up to two months ahead of males.
Males arrive ahead of females at the start of the breeding season and compete fiercely with rivals when forming pairs.
Close up of a juvenile Green Sandpiper
Green waders may feed in groups, but are more frequently considered solitary birds, who display intense aggression when territorial clashes occur – which they frequently do, all year round.
Aggressive displays include chasing off encroaching birds, low-key warning calls and full-on contact disputes in which injuries may be sustained.
In winter, communal night-time roosts of green sandpipers gather at gravel pits and on river banks at high tides. During the breeding season, they sleep in trees near their nest site.
Green Sandpiper perched on a rock, on the lookout for prey
Most green sandpipers do migrate, requiring two distinct habitats for breeding and for overwintering. Winters are spent around the edges of freshwater lakes, ponds, reservoirs and marshes, as well as sewage works and man-made gravel pits.
In summer, breeding green sandpipers are found at inland wetlands, bordered by flooded woodlands.
In early spring, green sandpipers leave their wintering grounds in south Asia Mediterranean, and north and central Africa. The destination of these spring migrations is into breeding grounds in northern Europe, central Asia and as far east as eastern Siberia.
Green sandpipers are not native to the UK, although a couple of pairs have been reported as breeding in northern Scotland. Their usual breeding grounds are found further north, in Scandinavia and across northern Russia.
According to the BTO data from 2011 to 2015, up to 290 individuals may spend the winter in the UK, but for most, the final winter destination is deeper south, into north and sub-Saharan Africa and in parts of the Mediterranean.
Close up of the back of a Green Sandpiper
Only isolated reports of breeding green sandpapers exist in Britain, with just two pairs recorded to be breeding in the north of Scotland between 2013 and 2017. Most green sandpipers spotted in the UK are in passage between breeding in Scandinavia and wintering in Africa and south-eastern Asia.
A long-legged wader, closely related to the curlew, the Eurasian whimbrel, has small breeding populations established on the Scottish islands of Shetland and Orkney. Migrating whimbrels may be spotted along Britain’s coastlines as they undertake long-distance migration flights between Arctic tundra breeding grounds and wintering territories in Africa.
Spotted redshanks have a distinctive black spotted summer plumage that UK residents are unlikely to see in birds on British shores, as the species is only a rare winter visitor or spotted in migration passage. Several hundred spotted redshanks make brief stopovers on British coastal wetlands each year, en-route to and from breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle.
Highly camouflaged and elusive, the jack snipe is a small wading bird that spends winters on mudflats and freshwater wetlands across Britain. Smaller and less common than the UK’s other native snipe, the common snipe, jack snipes are harder to spot due to their tendency to crouch low and remain hidden among reeds.
The Dunlin is a small wading bird from the sandpiper family Scolopacidae. Dunlins breed across North America and northern Europe, and Asia and are one of the most widely distributed wading birds, with ten subspecies.
Identified as being from a group of birds known as Waders, within North America they are generally referred to as Shorebirds. This monotypic species, a long distance migrant, is considered to have an Amber Conservation Status otherwise known as Near Threatened.
The largest European wading bird, the Eurasian curlew is easy to identify with its elongated bow-shaped bill and spindly legs. In winter groups of curlews known as ‘curfews’ forage together in coastal wetlands, and up to 66,000 pairs breed in the UK and are resident all year round.
Belonging to a group of birds generally called waders or shorebirds, the common sandpiper prefers freshwater habitats as opposed to saltwater locations.
An impressive, proud looking wader with particularly fine summer plumage which migrates south from its northern breeding grounds from July to October, returning for the summer from late February through April.
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